I spoke to my older brother yesterday to tell him what time I would pick him up for Thanksgiving. It was a call I dreaded. Not because I dislike my brother who has struggled with mental illness and depression for years, but because I had promised something I never followed through on and I was afraid that he would be angry with me. I had promised back in June that I would come to his tiny subsidized apartment in Lowell and give it a good “spring cleaning”. I was going to replace the nicotine stained curtains, scrub down the walls and replace the fraying rug. We were both excited with the prospect of his new and improved living space. My brother has very little and this was a gesture that would bring great joy to his somewhat lonely existence. But I never went. I let the Summer turn to Fall and made excuses when I thought about it and got busy and then it just got too late. When he answered the phone yesterday he sounded genuinely happy to hear from me.
“Hey Franny, how’s it going.”
“Great Bri, listen I am sorry about not getting over there to clean, yet.”
“Oh that’s ok, I figured you weren’t feeling well.” Of course he thought that. He has always worried about me, his little sister, since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Brian always made time to call and find out if I was ok.
“I feel terrible that I never got there to clean. I didn’t mean to disappoint you.”
“Don’t worry about it.” he said as graciously as he could. How could he be so accepting of this, I wondered, when I was so horrible about handling disappointment in my own life? Why do I get so upset when things don’t go my way?
I have lived through quite a few “real” disappointments in my life–like the death of my father and two brothers at young ages or the fact that I moved to a new town every 10-18 months throughout junior and senior high always right about the time I was settling in, not to mention the loss of my youth and body parts due to cancer. After enough of these major life disappointments I seem to have become immune to death,and sickness and change in location, losing friends and loved ones with an heir of acceptance. The major blows I can handle–leaving no room for the minor disappointments in my repertoire of coping skills.
When looking for a new home years ago when the market was red-hot and if you didn’t place a bid higher than asking price as soon as your foot hit the threshold then most likely you would lose it; my real estate agent told me to never picture my own furniture in someone else’s house so I wouldn’t be upset when I didn’t get it. But I didn’t take his advice. Each house I entered I could imagine how my wooden bench would fit perfectly in their kitchen-nook and ,oh, wouldn’t my couch look lovely under that sunny window. And I am still doing it today. Although now it’s with those that I love. I am the furniture and I picture myself in different scenarios surrounded by friends and family. Whether it’s a simple lunch with a friend or a night out or a weekend away with my family where everyone gets along. I forget to take into account that other’s may have their own plans.
As I get older, my circle of close friends has narrowed considerably in direct relation to the widening of my expectations of their loyalty and love for me. I find myself getting my hopes up about spending time with the ones I love–people I want desperately in my life–and when they are too busy for me, I become extremely disappointed. So when a friend can’t meet me for lunch or isn’t home when I visit I am heartbroken. Because in my mind I had things worked out just-so. Last Spring I was hoping my best friend and her family would join us on a trip to South Carolina. I got my hopes up so high and pictured all the fun our families would have together that when she finally told me no (which took some time because she didn’t want to disappoint me), I was crushed and angry.
As an adult I should have learned by now how to handle disappointment. Instead, a constant battle rages between my grown-up mind and my child-like heart . My brain does realize that I have no right to be angry at the other person for letting me down. Since usually it is not they who have let me down but my own mental furniture moving that has gotten me into the predicamanet in the first place. But my heart acts out so when things don’t work out for me I sulk and feel sad and rejected for a while until I talk myself out of the destructive self-pitying that doesn’t do anyone any good. At the same time I am trying to teach my children to handle disappointment. “It”s fine” ,I say when they don’t make the ‘A” team in hockey or soccer. “Pick up and move on” I say when my son realizes his bum knee will handicap him for life. I want them to learn how to handle such things knowing full well that I, a 47 year old woman, still struggles with it.
There are solutions to this problem, but none of them sound enticing. My disappointment revolves around people I care deeply for, who I want to spend all my time with. I am never disappointed by aquaintences or those I hold at arms distance in my life. Only the few I have let sneak into the inner circle of my heart. I suppose I could stop letting people in. But I would have to let the others go as well. If I stand alone, then no one can hurt me. Just like when my oldest son was about 6 years old and he stopped accepting balloons at birthday parties and carnivals. When someone offered him a balloon he would say,
“No thank you, I don’t like balloons.”
But I knew he loved balloons. It’s just that he had lost one too many to the windy skies or popped them on sharp objects and he had told me that he was never going to get a balloon again because it was too sad when you lost it. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to stop accepting balloons or let loose the ones that fill my heart just because they may disappoint me. It’s a jaded and cynical way to live. I think I would rather enjoy the beauty and happiness of spending time with those that I love and suffer the disappointment when things don’t work out as planned. The alternative feels too lonely.
I don’t want to stop making plans either. If I don’t ask anyone to be there for me then they can’t let me down. Again a cynical view. One I am not willing to adopt. I think I would rather continue to make plans and get excited about things that “might” happen even though sometimes they may not work out exactly as planned. I’d rather continue to buy balloons and fill up my imaginary house and take the risk.
Because I know, deep down, that those that I love mean well–like I meant to do well by my brother. Eventually I will clean his house. He knows that. He trusts me. So I must learn to trust the ones I love, and like my brother, graciously accept that their true intention is never to disappoint me–only that life gets very busy and sometimes with a little patience on my part things may work out even better than I had planned.